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At WTC site, a deep divide over PATH

By BRIAN KLADKO   August 29, 2002

Some relatives of World Trade Center victims, contending that the space beneath the Twin Towers will forever be sacred ground, are insisting that nothing permanent be built under the towers' footprints - a demand that would require
rerouting the PATH rail lines and station.

"Six stories down is where most of the remains were found, and we want to respect that," said Monica Iken, leader of September's Mission, one of several
groups representing Sept. 11 victims. "It was the final resting space." The prospect of underground construction has caused a rift among the different groups. While they share the conviction that the towers' footprints should be preserved above ground, some family leaders are willing to accept the presence of rail lines and other infrastructure below.

"The reality is, for someone to say the footprint has to be preserved and there
can't be anything in there, they're not recognizing the real world," said Tom
Rogér, whose daughter was a flight attendant on the plane that hit the north
tower, and who is vice president of Families of September 11. The divide over underground development is just one aspect of the Ground Zero dilemma.

Even though it has been excavated, many families consider the site to be inhabited by the ghosts of their loved ones. But it's also a crucial component of the region's economy. So whatever gets built there will likely contain some mix of the sacred and profane. The relatives' reactions to underground construction depends to a large extent on their spiritual beliefs, said Nikki Stern, a Plainsboro resident who is one of several family advisers to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency charged with rebuilding the site. "It's not a personal issue with me, but I realize it is for others," said Stern, whose husband, an executive at Marsh & McLennan, died in the north tower. "So I don't think it's dismissible."

Before Sept. 11, the PATH tubes - which carried 65,000 passengers a day from New Jersey - passed beneath the south tower. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates PATH, is reconstructing a temporary line, due to  open in December 2003, that will follow the previous alignment. In the long term, Port Authority officials are considering two plans. In one scenario, the PATH
lines would stay put. Under the other, the lines would extend farther west to Church Street and possibly skirt the south tower's footprint.  "They can essentially move the tracks," Iken said. "They don't have to put them back where they were. It's very simple for them to take a track and move it over."

Greg Trevor, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said avoiding the south tower's footprints "would present a significant planning, engineering, and construction challenge. "But the Port Authority is listening to all interested parties, so that we can work together and reach a consensus on the best solution," he said. He added that the Port Authority, which lost 75 of its own employees Sept. 11, is committed to respecting the dead. "Creating a significant space for a permanent, lasting, and fitting memorial is the top priority," he said.

Iken's group joined with several others to press a demand for preservation of the footprints, both above and below ground.  Calling themselves the Coalition of 9/11 Families, they declared earlier this month in a position paper: "The site must be treated with all of the reverence due to a hallowed burial ground. For many families, it does and will represent the final resting place of their loved ones. The entire site is a graveyard without tombstones for the families."

But at least one family group, Families of September 11, believes that restoration of the PATH lines could actually be a tribute to the victims.  "There are a lot of families that say, 'Well, it was there before, and it was part of the original
setup, so what better way to memorialize what was there than to put that back into operation?'" said Rogér, the group's vice-president.

It's unclear which view predominates among the relatives of the more than 2,800 who perished Sept. 11. Iken believes the coalition's adamant stance represents the majority view. Others contend that most families are willing to accept below-ground construction. "I really do feel that ... if it's a question of economic development, and a lot of money and a lot of time that will have to be added to the budget and the schedule in order to move the infrastructure, people would choose to keep the infrastructure the way it is now," said a family adviser to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. who asked that her name not be used.

The Port Authority is also proposing another piercing of the towers' footprints: an underground pedestrian concourse. The 3,000-foot walkway, which would connect the World Financial Center ferry terminal, the PATH station, and a new transit center on Broadway, would pass directly beneath the spot where the north tower stood. That proposal meets with more widespread opposition from family groups, who fear the concourse will contain shops and fast-food outlets that would desecrate the memorial above. Family representatives want the concourse moved at least one block north, away from the tower's footprint.

Officials have said the concourse, which officials hope to complete by 2008, would be clearly delineated as part of the memorial zone. But Rogér is skeptical.
"Oh, sure," he said. "Somebody's running from the ferry to catch their subway, and they're going to stop and genuflect as they go through?" Stern, one of several family advisers to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said she and
others are waiting to hear from transportation officials about the difficulty of avoiding the footprints. "I'd like to hear whether it's doable, because it would make life easier for everyone," she said. "And if it's not doable, I'd like to know why it's not doable."


Brian Kladko's e-mail address is kladko@northjersey.com

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